The Age of Authenticity: Oprah over Freud

In Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age he makes a distinction between the ‘Age of Mobilization’ and the ‘Age of Authenticity’ with the mobilization period being represented by an increase sense of individual awareness and a sense of identity. This age had a long time to develop but was loudly proclaimed by Martin Luther’s nailing of the “95 Theses” in 1517 and lasted to about the end of the World War II.

The ‘Age of Mobilization’ produced all the great isms of our modern world: nationalism, conservatism, liberalism, socialism, etc. where people formed alliances and bonds with similar like-minded people and not necessarily those of their own kin or tribe. This period of choice produced tremendous excitement but also tremendous social anxiety; this is many ways was the essence of Freud’s concern between the needs and demands of society to maintain order and the needs and wants of the new emerging individual to find fulfillment.

But something happened following World War II which is hard to define but palpable to feel. A sense that all the great beliefs that defined the ‘Age of Mobilization’ have failed us (or at least have proven to be imperfect) and could no longer be trusted or relied upon. Doubt and uncertainly is now the basic fact of life. From the Cold War, Vietnam, the Kennedy-King assassinations, to the student rebellions in Paris and Berkeley in 1968 to Watergate it has come clear that the values of Western societies are open questions of disagreement and not necessarily universal truths. Or if these truths are universal people will still debate and question where one truth begins and ends and when it has gone to too far.

If institutions and belief systems fail us then it is logical that it is individual happiness and personal development becomes the most important pursuit of our lives. The authentic quest becomes the primary goal of modern life. The question becomes whether finding this type of goal is possible or even desirable. Could we recognize an authentic life even if it was presented right in front us? To our rescue come the self-help movements and television, internet, social media and my I dare say even bloggers…

Here is my list of the real thing:

Finding Contentment
Neil Clark Warren

Sincerity and Authenticity
Lionel Trilling

Scars of the Spirit
Geoffrey H. Hartman

The Hard Questions for an Authentic Life
Susan Piver

The Thing Itself
Richard Todd

The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves
Andrew PotterView full image

Better Make It Real
Jill J. Morin

Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk
Robyn Okrant

-phil d.

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